Tom Brady and the New England Patriots once again look like a team that could do damage in the AFC playoffs and perhaps even make another appearance at the Super Bowl. The AFC is wide open at this point, as there are a handful of teams that could represent their conference in New Orleans.
The road that the Patriots are given to the Super Bowl will be a big factor in whether or not they can make it back. Here is a look at some teams that the Patriots should hope to see in January to hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy and take on the NFC Champions.
The Cincinnati Bengals could very well be primed to steal the last spot in the AFC playoffs with the Pittsburgh Steelers having serious questions at the quarterback position. If they sneak in, the Patriots would seem to be the likely team to take them on, as the No. 2 seed may be out of reach for New England.
The Bengals would be a welcome opponent for the Patriots. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the running game surely would not scare Bill Belichick and his staff. All attention would be put on taking away stud receiver A.J. Green from Andy Dalton. Green has quickly become one of the elite at the position, and Belichick would surely shade him with two defenders all game long.
The Bengals have a solid defense, but it isn't good enough to keep Brady from outscoring their offense. If the Patriots have Rob Gronkowski back at full strength by this game, this one could be ugly, similar to the Patriots' victory over the Denver Broncos in last year's divisional round.
Yes, the Patriots have not had huge success as of late against the Ravens. Still, Tom Brady has a 4-1 regular-season record against the Ravens and a 1-1 record against Baltimore in the playoffs.
Tom Brady and the Patriots offense are playing at a level that Joe Flacco and company are not capable of matching if both defenses are playing at a level that is close to even. The Ravens defense will still have the upper hand, but if the Patriots secondary can continue to make plays on the ball, it may have a confidence that it lacked when New England fell to the Ravens in Week 3.
This game would have the makings of another dogfight that could come down to the wire, just as the last few matchups between these two have. At the end of the day, the Ravens will still be a better and more familiar matchup for the Patriots than the No. 1-seeded Houston Texans.
The Patriots should be hoping that Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos knock off the top-seeded Houston Texans in the divisional round and allow the AFC title game to be played at Gillette Stadium. The Broncos coming to Foxboro is a realistic scenario, and it seems to be the best option for the Patriots in a possible conference championship game.
With the amount of history between the Patriots and the Broncos—including Manning and John Fox—the Patriots would welcome the team that is virtually identical to the one that they blew out in the playoffs a season ago. The one addition, of course, is Manning. He will be enough to make this more of a game than it otherwise would be, but just like it went in Week 5, the Patriots offense will be too much to handle for the Broncos defense.
The Denver defense has playmakers who will show up a handful of times on the afternoon, but in the end, the Patriots should have no problem to put up 30-plus points as they did the first time around. If Brady has all of his weapons back in time for this game, even Manning may have trouble outscoring the Patriots.
If this game comes to be, the revamped New England secondary will play a large role in whether or not the Patriots represent their conference in the Super Bowl.